Now that those sexy church seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost are behind us, we are now full into the plain vanilla liturgical straightaway known as “Ordinary Time.”
What a crummy name for a church season. Can it get any worse?
Yes! The liturgical color is green.
What’s so “ordinary” about Ordinary Time? It turns out, mostly just the name. “Ordinary Time” is the English translation of the Latin phrase, Tempus per annum, or “time through the year.” Itself not exactly the kind of phrase that inspires either monkish devotion or religious revelry, Tempus per annum was a Catholic thing arising from the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. So they get two points for the whole “ditch the-Latin” thing, but minus three points for coming up with the dorkiest name for sacred time.
The “ordinary” in Ordinary Time, according to http://www.churchyear.net, may have its roots in the idea of “ordered,” since the weeks are just kind of numbered between Pentecost and Advent. And as any 11th grader studying high school algebra can tell you, an “ordinal” is just a number in a well-defined set.
The Vatican officially adopted the term “Ordinary Time” in the English translation of its 1969 directive, General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, which once again clearly revealed Rome’s need for a noncelibate editor to spice up the language of their official documents. General Norms explains the season thus:
Apart from those seasons having their own distinctive character, thirty-three or thirty-four weeks remain in the yearly cycle that do not celebrate a specific aspect of the mystery of Christ. Rather, especially on the Sundays, they are devoted to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects. This period is known as Ordinary Time.
Okay, now we’re getting somewhere! But why call the time when we celebrate the mystery of Christ IN ALL ITS ASPECTS “Ordinary Time”? That would be like calling the day on which Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross to die “Good Friday”! But that’s another column. My guess is the real origin of “Ordinary Time” comes from lack of imagination. Those Vatican editors really should get out more.
Maybe it’s time for all the churches to debunk Ordinary Time once and for all! The predecessor to the National Council of Churches apparently did just this, according to Wikipedia. In 1937 it proposed “Kingdomtide” as the name for the whole season between Pentecost and Advent. Fortunately, it never caught on and MAY be someday be the name of a video game in which Medieval knights fight the minions of the church to rescue the knockout princess (blonde, of course) who is imprisoned in a fortress-like convent. Or maybe not.
But here’s the deal: All kidding aside, there is no such thing as ordinary time. It’s a dumb and misleading name. Every moment of every day pulses with divine energy, so every moment is saturated with God’s meaning and purpose, if we only open our eyes and hearts to see it.
Alas, few people do, even though almost every spiritual discipline is devoted to just this purpose: to help give you an awareness of God’s presence all around you, in every nanosecond of time. The name for the season between Pentecost and Advent should remind us of this.
Therefore, I propose we change the name of the season from “Ordinary Time” to “Miracle Time.” Because like “the mystery of Christ In all its aspects,” God’s universe is full of Miracles for us to celebrate. No, the idea isn’t original. I drew inspiration from Walt Whitman, who was great American poet of the 19th century, and definitely not a celibate monk.
Whitman’s poem will explain it all:
Why! who makes much of a miracle?
As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach, just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love–or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with my mother,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive, of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds–or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sun-down–or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite, delicate, thin curve of the new moon in spring;
Or whether I go among those I like best, and that like me best–mechanics, boatmen, farmers,
Or among the savans–or to the soiree–or to the opera,
Or stand a long while looking at the movements of machinery,
Or behold children at their sports,
Or the admirable sight of the perfect old man, or the perfect old woman,
Or the sick in hospitals, or the dead carried to burial,
Or my own eyes and figure in the glass;
These, with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring–yet each distinct, and in its place.
To me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same;
Every spear of grass–the frames, limbs, organs, of men and women,
and all that concerns them,
All these to me are unspeakably perfect miracles.
To me the sea is a continual miracle;
The fishes that swim–the rocks–the motion of the waves–the ships, with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?
(From the 1900 edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, in the public domain.)
*General Norms is actually pretty instructive, maybe even for those who aren’t liturgical nerds like me! Click here to read a copy
© Copyright 2010, the Rev. Rob Blezard. All rights reserved.
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“Eternal Time” photo by Robert van der Steeg, used under a Creative Commons license. See more of Robert’s photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/robbie73/.